Detroit Lions: 3 reasons TE David Njoku is not a good fit

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

David Njoku of the Cleveland Browns recently requested a trade, but he’s not the right fit for the Detroit Lions.

For a split second, I closed my eyes. I tried to picture a dual tight end set of T.J. Hockenson and David Njoku going to work in the Detroit Lions Honolulu blue uniforms. Although he provides an overload of potential, still, after I opened my eyes, I realized it’s extremely far fetched.

Njoku’s agent, Drew Rosenhaus claims the soon to be 24-year old tight end needs to be the featured pass-catcher at his position and would like to be traded before the start of training camp. The Browns recently made a splash in free agency signing Austin Hooper, who will be the clear number one tight end entering the year for Cleveland.

Although the initial reaction of acquiring Njoku seems appealing, it’s an unrealistic thought process for a variety of reasons.

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First: The Detroit Lions spent an elite draft choice just one year ago on Hockenson, that, about a month after signing tight end Jesse James in free agency.  Although we’ve been disappointed with James after year one, he is a candidate to bounce back in year two with Detroit.  Yes, that is an obvious statement when you consider how bad he produced, but if he plays like we know he can, he’s the perfect second-team tight end for the Lions.

Second: Many of us expect Hockenson to continue to develop, and we can safely anticipate significant progress in his second year after a respectable rookie campaign.  Hockenson provided the Lions with nearly a record-breaking rookie season at the tight end position, but if we were to take away his stellar week one performance, it was stable at best.  It’s not a knock on the kid, but there is room to grow, and the Detroit Lions won’t rush to impede his progress by trading for Njoku and potentially disrupting Hockenson’s confidence.

Third: While Njoku’s potential is much greater than James’ as a whole, the Detroit Lions have a lot invested in James.  He’s entering the second year of a five year deal that averages $5.6-million per season.  The agreement does have a potential out after the conclusion of this season, but it carries a $4.2 million dead cap number.  Entering the 2020 season, James is owed $5.2 million and brings a sizeable dead cap number of $8.2 million if he’s traded or released.  That being said, Detroit is not in any position to trade away future draft capital for another tight end.

Conclusion: The hope is that James, in year two with Detroit, returns to form as a blocker like in his Steelers days.  He’s capable of being an elite pass-blocker and a well above average run-blocker from the tight end position.  His large 6-foot-7 frame is expected to be utilized far more often in the redzone this season especially with Logan Thomas moved on to Washington.

Hockenson will once again be the featured tight end, which would remain the case if Detroit opted to trade for Njoku. It’s an offense that will already deploy Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola, D’Andre Swift, and Kerryon Johnson; there are not enough targets to keep Njoku happy or impress his agent Rosenhaus.

Njoku played in just four games due to injury last season catching five passes totaling 41 yards and a touchdown. Over his young career, he’s amassed 1,066 receiving yards on 93 grabs to go along with his nine touchdown receptions.

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Njoku’s rookie year was very similar to Hockenson’s.  In 2017, Njoku made 32 catches totaling 386 yards and four touchdowns.  Last season, Hockenson corralled 32 passes totaling 367 yards and two touchdowns.  If Hockenson continues on the same trajectory as Njoku, expect those numbers to double in 2020.